Time for change...
I have long been an advocate of making Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Regional Championships an own choice test piece contest with relevant time limits on the length of test piece allowed.
Now I come to the conclusion that if the absurd situation of having 90 ‘Championship’ standard bands, if in name only, is to be maintained, then in order to stimulate some real development in the actual standard of brass playing the top and 1st Sections, they have to become own choice without delay.
The gulf in difficulty between a piece like ‘Cry of the Mountain’ and ‘St. Magnus’ was so vast as to be almost laughable were it not such a serious problem.
The current method of test piece selection is not fit for purpose.
As with football we have a premier league in each region with, title contenders, mid table stabilisers and relegation contenders.
We have lost the use of a vast swath of excellent works which fall in the gap between the two pieces mentioned above.
These are pieces which would give the bands currently getting to grips with promotion to the top section, or trying to consolidate a place there, a chance to develop both technically and musically in a logical way instead of where two thirds of all so called ‘Championship’ bands will get nowhere near giving a satisfying technical or musical account of a work such as ‘St. Magnus’.
I would even go as far as to suggest that if we are really to look at what constitutes a performance of true Championship Section standard - perhaps one which would be acceptable by the BBC for broadcast on Radio 3 - then I would be astonished if across the whole of the country we reached double figures this year.
We have seen it time and again recently with works such as ‘Epic Symphony’, ‘A Kensington Concerto’ and ‘Energy’, among others, that no more than a small handful of bands are able to produce well rounded, complete performances.
There is no logic in basing gradings in the lower half of each Championship Section contest in picking the bones over performances which all fail to address the fundamental technical and musical requirements of a piece such as ‘St. Magnus’ in various ways.
Far better to allow the bands to play a piece of their own choosing which showcases their abilities to the full in a satisfying way to really see what they can do rather than highlight what they can't do.
The best bands will still choose to play the really big pieces but we may also then be able to let players develop in a logical way giving performances which are satisfying to play and to listen to.
I am sure that making bands which are ill equipped for it tackle pieces which are patently far too difficult for them will only lead to more players deserting their hobby.
Where is the joy in sitting on a stage knowing that you are looking at a damage limitation exercise at best, rather than looking forward to expressing your collective abilities in a performance which really means something to both performer and listener?
Two measures need to be taken with immediate effect if we are to have any hope of real development in the performance standard of British bands.
1. Implementation of own choice test pieces at the Areas with effect from 2015.
2. A reduction throughout the country of 60% in the number of bands considered to be of Championship standard.
Any arguments I have heard so far against this proposal strike me as been driven either by self interest or fear of change.
I don't imagine anything will be done to address this serious problem.
British banding will remain pickled in aspic as countries around Europe and further afield develop apace leaving us further and further behind.
Do not resist the the Elite call
To dismiss the setting up of an Elite level only demonstrates resistance to change that will continue to stifle growth and the popularity of our contesting core values.
Now that the Area finals are over it is absolutely clear there is a clear divide. Indeed, to an extent, it could be said that quite a few bands in other sections are playing way out of their depth!
Of all the entrants in the 2014 regionals, I personally, find it difficult to find 40 that I would rate good enough to be classed as Elite! ‘St Magnus’ only served to reinforce my view!
Creating an Elite Section does not fundamentally change anything. Indeed, it only repackages and realigns the initiative taken some years ago when the First Section was established.
What an Elite Section does do (as in so many of our Sporting competitions) is to provide new goals to achieve and - through clearly defined relegation methods - greater opportunities. Something greater to aspire to!
Whilst not entirely perfect, the Elite system + five sections work well in Norway and there is no good reason why a similar setup would not work in the UK. There you have a model to look at and refine!
Through promotions/relegation there is no reason why ambitious, fully committed bands cannot aspire to the Elite Section.
The competition becomes fiercer, more exciting and above all provides listeners / followers with a greater, more pleasurable experience. Everyone has a chance - if you are good enough you get there, if you are not you don't!
That applies in all walks of life and banding is no different!
We have a local 'Championship' band but, in truth, they are a million miles away from being a UK top band. Up into Championship for a few years, then back down to First, up again after a good Regional placing, but down again in another couple of years and so it goes on.
As an outfit and on a par with many 'Championship' bands all of whom would be much better suited to competition on a more equal footing.
If you don't like the word 'Elite' try Premier! But whatever you do - sort out this mess; shake it up; and progress into the 21st Century!
We need to move with the times; embrace change; and - as a passing shot - tighten the rules on eligibility and stop 'ringers'. The latter is doing the movement no good - to many of us it is cheating!
It should provoke debate and encourage what we need to do to preserve our future.
There's another challenge 4BarsRest - get the administrators in one of your excellent video chats and get them to explain why change is not necessary!
A realistic re-grading exercise
I read with interest the differing points of view concerning the grading of bands: Do we need a re-grading exercise?
There is little doubt there are disparages in the ability of bands throughout the regions and sections but doesn’t this apply everywhere? It has been the case since the formation of the grading systems, bands come, bands go.
What concerns me is the current drive for a re-grading structure tends to point to a super league of bands.
Who will choose what bands make up the super league and how will this be done?
Does this mean the Regional/Area tag will disappear? How would qualification for the nationals then be decided?
I have considered the arguments and to me changes are unnecessary.
The area contests are exactly what they say they are - the best bands from the areas go through to a national final and the best regional qualifiers fight it out for the big prize.
We look at the current super strong regions such as Yorkshire and Wales and see there is an argument some of the best bands have not been present at the National finals. So what has changed?
It has always been this way and the reason regions get extra places for strong National performance.
It is why 4 bands from Yorkshire and Wales will represent their regions this year. If you wanted to be critical would a band coming third in another area have beaten the third or fourth placed band in Yorkshire or Wales this year? Who can say?
However it is the way the board has been set and it pretty much works.
There are enough championships to ensure the best bands compete against each other: The Open, Brass in Concert, Europeans to name a few.
The less able Championship Section bands will only improve as long as they have something to aim for.
There needs to be a band in every area that sets a high performance bar, it is then the task of every other band within that area to raise their game. This is why at the moment Yorkshire and Wales dominate numbers at the major National competitions.
Be under no illusion the excellence of these bands has an impact on the playing standards of those they compete against – you raise your game or get buried, that simple.
Is not the question how can we improve the standards of the challengers rather than get the so called lesser bands out the way?
My own band has been on a journey that has so far taken 5 years.
We are clear about what we are trying to do: We want to compete with Cory, Dyke, Grimey’s, B&R, Tredegar, Fodens, Fairey’s, Leyland, Co-op Funeral care and their like.
It requires hard work, commitment, quality players and great direction. Changing area boundaries will never change these fundamentals – the National system isn’t broken and therefore doesn’t need fixing.
There is a need for bands who aspire to be competitive to understand what is involved and start the journey. You only get out what you put in where performance levels are concerned (players permitting of course) and it is this point that needs addressing.
Look to the music educational facilities in the under-performing areas and begin generating quality home grown players for the future.
I look at the work Joanne Sykes is doing with young people in her area – it is so inspiring and whilst those youngsters will not be competing with Cory, B&R etc in the next 5 years it may not be long after this when they are.
Let’s look a little longer term rather than the short term view point a number are seemingly pursuing.
Food for Thought!
The time has surely come to stop the top four bands at the Championship Section Finals at the Royal Albert Hall gaining an automatic return.
Wales had seven bands competing at Llandudno and four of them will be at the RAH in October; not a bad return for such a small number!
A place in the finals should be earned that year at the regional's, not on the back of a performance 12 months ago: That way each region will send two bands - much fairer, plus not having an automatic place might make some of the 'senior' bands think more about their regional performance.
In the last twenty years the North West has had only four different winners, Yorkshire six, Wales four; the other regions have fared a little better.
It would appear that a twelve band Championship Section is too many: perhaps eight might be a more sensible number and that then would equalise the ratio of qualifiers to those regions with fewer bands.
There could also be a further reshuffle of the First and Second Sections to accommodate the change.
If the custom of automatic return continues, should the winners of First to Fourth Sections also be awarded an automatic entry to the final of the section above the following year?
Following on from the number of Championship Section bands; why do the Scottish and Welsh winners gain an automatic place to the European Championships at their regional events and the English regional winners have to battle again?
Scotland and Wales has ten and seven bands respectively - and one automatic qualifier each.
England has 67 bands, and only one qualifier. Doesn’t quite seem fair?
Would though, each English regional winner want to go to the Europeans?
The above will hopefully produce some constructive replies/comments, as it is intended to be only 'food for thought'.
I wonder if I can open a discussion thread about pre-draws at the Areas.
I had a message from a friend playing at the London Area who had to get up at 4.30am to catch a coach at 5.30am and then face a 2 hour trip to rehearse at 8.00am to have a draw around 9.00am to then play and have to wait hours for the results!
This in my mind is crazy. They must be exhausted before they start!
Why cannot the powers that be, agree to have a pre-draw to make it much easier for bands.
I threw this question on facebook, and to be honest most I think agreed that it should be allowed. I bet that while some bands are travelling in the early hours the adjudicator is tucked up in a nice warm hotel have a great night’s sleep.
My other gripe is about closed adjudication.
I have always believed in having the judge/judges in the open. You need to see and hear what is going on without the curtain muffling the sound of a band. If the judge could see, then they could be certain of any doctoring of parts which was the case with many bands this year on ‘St Magnus’.
Maybe some results would have been different if the judge could see this happening!
I want to throw this open now for debate see what the general response is.
What happened to Jaguar?
I would like to express my own thoughts having attended the recent Midland Area Championship Section, which was a truly brilliant contest to both participate in and listen to.
Once again the organisation was first rate and Bedworth Town Hall continues to be a great venue with excellent facilities and fairly priced catering.
The 4barsrest coverage was brilliant with an instant appraisal which was a fair reflection of band performances - well done.
However, I was a bit bemused by the result; having listened to all the competing bands except the 3rd placed band.
There was no question in my mind that Virtuosi GUS were the outstanding band in the section with Desford well deserved runners up. But what happened to Jaguar?
In my view their performance deserved a top 6 place; they were technically superior to most.
I do wonder if the adjudicators were focused on placing the top 2 or 3 bands and then after that....
I want to be clear I am not a supporter of Jaguar but have written because I feel strongly that they were hard done by.
Do we really have to cheat?
After witnessing some exceptional music making at the 2014 Yorkshire Area Championship, it was clear that I was listening to what can only be described as top banding at its very best, with some truly amazing displays of talent from Black Dyke to Grimethorpe and their renditions of the test piece ‘St Magnus’.
What concerns me however is that why in this day and age do the bands at the very top feel the need to rely on trickery - and what I can only describe as cheating.
I am disheartened by the fact that the best principal cornet award went to Brighouse & Rastrick, when in my humble opinion at beginning of the piece his second man seemed to be doing all the hard work!
His was not alone though - with the second man down in a number of bands indeed played a large majority of the solo work.
I can't understand why players at this level set examples like this when lower bands are struggling yet playing truthfully to their strengths.
Mr J Bottomely
To the gentlemen and ladies of the banding press:
I really enjoyed my annual pilgrimage to St George’s Hall recently. The top section of the Yorkshire Regional is always a pleasurable experience and a chance to listen to the top section test piece being played with all its glory.
As usual we booked our regular seats overlooking the side of the stage and adjacent to the press area.
The movement and sense of interest from the press box can sometimes be distracting, but nothing prepared me for the additional percussion noises made through the entire quiet section of Carlton Main’s performance, as one of the photographers insisted on taking some thirty or so photographs with one of the loudest cameras on the market.
Whilst I understand the need to take pictures for your publications, wouldn't the best out of a few be OK rather than the multitude that were taken?
Do you really need so many pictures of, what is essentially a 'static' performance and is there any chance you could get a slightly quieter and less intrusive camera please?
What a great and imaginative editorial regarding forgeries. It could potentially open a can of worms although, ‘cheating’ has always gone on in contests.
Parts re-written (in the hands of certain conductors improved!!); Mutes being used when not asked for; Dusters over cornet bells to play high flugel lines; Cornets turning in during quiet sections; Playing out to the box in loud passages; Tenor horns covering high euph lines; Eb basses playing exposed Bb lines; Off beat sections being played on the beat.
The list is endless!
Maybe some of those FIFA goal line refs could be used in contests (they don’t seem to have much to do) to actually see what goes on. I'm certain the report back to the adjudicator would be...well...enlightening!!!
As a side note, there is a strong theory that many top composers do have a contest button on their Sibelius software to make perfectly easy sections hard for no other reason than to ‘challenge’ players and MDs!!
I am trying to locate a piece of music entitled, ‘Seven in the Morning’.
I heard it played as a duet, but I know a flugel horn player who would do it justice.
Any help with regard to this will be much appreciated
I noticed, in your recent concert article about a Grimethorpe concert appearance in Long Melford, that the marketing manager of the company promoting the event was named Martin Blessett.
I wonder if this is the same Martin Blessett who wrote a very positive review for your website of Black Dyke's recent concert in Bedford, an event which was also promoted by Mr Blessett's company?
I don't mind people reviewing their own events, and I don't doubt for a moment that it was as good a concert as Mr Blessett wrote.
But I do think, in the interests of integrity, that any commercial interests ought to be declared.